Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has become a popular festival in the United States. Although it is most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout the Latin community. And lucky for us, our Hispanic culture is vibrant in Grand Prairie!
What is Dia de los Muertos?
Dia de los Muertos is a two-day celebration beginning on November 1. The commemoration is a mixture of indigenous Aztec rituals influenced by the imported Catholicism of Spanish conquistadores arriving on American shores during the 16th century. (The event coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, both minor Catholic holidays.)
Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts.
Dia de los Muertos isn’t like Halloween. Halloween glorifies the spooky afterlife and the fear most humans feel about it. However, Dia de los Muertos honors the afterlife and focuses on remembering departed loved ones.
Celebrants of Dia de los Muertos enjoy vivid colors, dancing, food and prayer. The holiday has two main symbols, calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), that inspire old and young alike to not dread death. Unlike Halloween, the skeletons and skulls don’t represent fear. Instead, they are adorned on cakes, candies and decor.
Traditional festivities include altars adorned with photos of the deceased, food and flowers. Families come together to celebrate and share food around the alter.
Simply put, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of death being a part of life, and a way to remember those who have passed.
Reasons to Celebrate Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos has become more widespread in the United States, especially in the past few years.
1. You’ve Never Been to a Dia de los Muertos Celebration
If you’ve never been to a Dia de los Muertos celebration, you’re missing out. The celebrations are a great way to experience Hispanic culture. You will learn a different way to look at the afterlife and enjoy new experiences. The celebration is vastly different than Halloween!
2. You Want a Way to Celebrate Departed Loved Ones
This holiday is all about remembering your loved ones and celebrating the afterlife! The celebration isn’t sad, either. The dead are awakened from their eternal slumber to become part of the vibrant community and are celebrated with objects and activities they enjoyed in life, like food, drink and music.
3. Its History is Older than Christmas
Mesoamerican cultures like the Maya were already about 1,000 years deep into an annual festival of death and rebirth in the approximate year Jesus was born. The culture was already honoring their departed ancestors and the gods of the great beyond. To many indigenous Americans, death was seen as a continuance of life; a shift from one phase of being to another, like a butterfly reborn from a caterpillar’s cocoon. This powerful connection between the living and the dead persists at the core of today’s Día de Muertos.
4. It’s on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency in the United Nations that contributes to promoting international collaboration in education, sciences, and culture.
The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artifacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. It is sometimes called living cultural heritage, and is manifested inter alia in the following domains:
- Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
- Performing arts;
- Social practices, rituals and festive events;
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
- Traditional craftsmanship
Cultural heritage in general consists of the products and processes of a culture that are preserved and passed on through the generations. Some of that heritage takes the form of cultural property, formed by tangible artifacts such as buildings or works of art. Many parts of culture, however are intangible, including song, music, dance, drama, skills, cuisine, crafts and festivals. They are forms of culture that can be recorded but cannot be touched or stored in physical form, like in a museum, but only experienced through a vehicle giving expression to it. These cultural vehicles are called “Human Treasures” by the UN.
5. Failing to Celebrate can be Dangerous
According to tradition, if the dead return home and find that their family has failed to build them a suitable altar, they sometimes get revenge. That can manifest in a variety of ways, including sickness and even death.
Tradition also states the dead come and go all the time, stopping in to visit living family members on a frequent basis. Instead, the Day of the Dead is more like Christmas: It’s meant to remind the living of things they should be trying to remember all year round.
Although this belief is not as common in modern celebrations, tradition is still very important in the celebration.
Grand Prairie Dia de los Muertos Celebrations:
Dia de los Muertos in Downtown
Friday, Nov. 1
Farmers Market, 120 W. Main St.
This celebration will have face painting, live music, live monarch butterfly release, a procession down to a traditional alter, painting of sugar skulls, food and beverage, and a screening of Disney’s “Coco.” This event is free!
Dia de los Muertos at Traders Village
Saturday, Nov. 2
Traders Village, 2602 Mayfield Rd.
Traders Village’s celebration will include a parade, altars, artists, dancing and more! Join in the fun and dress in your favorite Dia de Los Muertos costume.
Traders Village also has kids rides, food items, free entertainment, and shopping – all for just a $4 parking fee.
Article sources: nationalgerographic.com, deseret.com and UNESCO